Title: Gulliver's Wife
Author: Lauren Chater
Publisher: 1st April 2020 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Pages: 416 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 cups
Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver
London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down.
In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care.
When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.
‘Why did he return? Where has he been? Nobody seems able to say for certain and his presence in the tavern would suggest he is not as ill as you suggest. It wouldn’t be the first time a man’s gone native and come back, would it, Missus Gulliver? Nor will it be the last.’
Gulliver’s Wife is Lauren Chater’s second novel. Her first, The Lace Weaver (review HERE) was wonderful. This is a much different story. Here Lauren has creatively imagined the tale of Mary Gulliver, the wife of the famous Lemuel Gulliver whose fictional adventures were written by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.
In this tale Lauren has presented an engaging fictional recount not only into the imagined fallout from her husband's infamous voyage, but and perhaps to a definite higher regard, the life and times for women in early 1700 London. Lauren brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of London through rich and detailed prose. Research is clearly evident as you trail along with Mary and her daughter Bess to the many locations and situations they find themselves in. Add to this a convincing reimagined plot to this famous tale of the Gulliver’s seafaring adventures and there is much to entertain here. Lauren does not hold back as themes of domestic violence, drug use and childbirth are forefront.
During this period in history, life was extremely difficult for women to say the least. Women were the property of the men they were married to and abusive relationships were most common. Mary was granted a little more freedom as Lauren placed her in the role of a midwife which granted her a more independence and enabled the reader to venture forth with her to a myriad of cases. Even still, Mary still finds herself often powerless to the demands of her returned husband and she has to work hard to protect those she loves, namely her son and daughter.
‘Because what if she fails? What are the consequences? They are worse for women than for men. Any small error in judgement, any scandal . . . She has spent the better part of her life avoiding drama, but now drama has found her.'
Bess is Mary’s daughter and it was a clever move to include her as another viewpoint into the hardships women had to endure. Lauren I feel, authentically captures not only the day to day living but also the midwifery practices of the time and the challenges they faced as male doctors sought to take control. The relationship between Mary and her daughter is well represented and realistically portrayed with the challenge to assume more control of their lives with strength and resilience.
‘How she wishes she could go back and unsay the things she said and say others in their place. She would peel back the hurt like rotting floorboards and lay bare all the things she should have told Bess years ago. Now, time is against them. The breach is so impossibly wide neither can hope to mend it.’
Gulliver's Wife is a tale that will not only transport you back to 1700 London in exquisite detail but will also educate you on the struggle for women and all of this tied together with a fascinating reimagining of the return of the infamous Lemuel Gulliver.
‘How many of these sailors have never returned home? How many cannot face their families after what they have done and seen? Is it possible Lem never went to Sumatra at all, but holed up in a place like this with a pipe for comfort? Did the years slip by in a whisper? Did they pass in a fever dream, while somebody–a woman, perhaps–milked the last of his coins from his purse, transmuting gold into smoke rings?’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.